* Image above via Foreign Policy.
Well, more like critiquing the critique coverage of Mexico's narco war, itself a subset of media writing these days. Here's what I mean.
I recently came across a piece from last fall that somehow fell through the cracks of my feeds as I was completing the main work on my book manuscript. It's Michael Massing in the Columbia Journalism Review, bemoaning what he calls the slanted coverage of Mexico by U.S. correspondents who he says are hellbent on portraying this country as falling apart in an orgy of narco-related bloodshed. An excerpt:
When it comes to Mexico, U.S. journalists seem interested in only four things: drugs, traffickers, violence, and corruption (with an occasional nod toward immigration). Journalists peddle a sort of drug-war pornography, salaciously and insatiably dwelling on the most lurid aspects of the trade: narcos, gangs, smugglers, pipelines, cells, mass graves, severed heads, torture chambers, dirty cops. Journalists promiscuously quote DEA agents, eagerly accompany undercover cops on ride-alongs, descend daringly into drug-infested neighborhoods, and intrepidly interview members of the drug trade.
At the bottom of the piece, there are several head-nodding 'right on!' comments from current or former American residents in Mexico, who are very often far more reflexively defensive of all things Mexico than the typical Mexican native. But the piece's flaw is its inability to readily admit that the narco violence in Mexico -- more than 16,000 dead in three years -- is a serious, serious problem, no matter how you slice it. And the Mexican government, no matter what Felipe Calderon says, keeps failing, and failing, and failing, in its efforts to stop it.
So how should the U.S. cover Mexico's narco war?
This made me think of a similar piece I myself wrote, for the journal Extra!, which is published by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. I never got around to linking to it, but the piece came out in June, a few months before Massing's in CJR.
I take his critique one step further. Using key examples from the sudden surge in "spill over"-themed coverage of Mexico in the U.S., which I'd date around spring 2009, I point out the gaping hole in the narco war reporting. Mainly, that official corruption in cartel-like organization patterns is by necessity present within the United States, but we rarely ever hear about it in U.S. papers (except when someone gets caught).
The term treats Mexico's violence as a kind of "contagion," as one of many critical reader comments noted of the March 23 New York Times article. "Fact is, the drug trade is a transnational commodity chain that links consumers [in] the U.S. with a pyramid of distributors, processors, financiers and growers. In that sense, the violence is a product of the trade itself, not a disease vector from Mexico," wrote a Times reader identified as Heather Williams of Durham, N.C. "Do we really think that all the people profiting from this trade are colorful (and brown) cartel leaders walking around with TEC-9 pistols in their coats? Give me a break. You can't move that kind of cash without bankers, real estate agents, trucking firms, lawyers, bureaucrats, cops, border patrol agents, etc. helping out at every stage of the game."
I then go on to quote Laura Carlsen at the CIP Americas Program. Carlsen is probably the most effectively skeptical and comprehensive writer on Mexico's drug war today. Time and again, she gets to the underlying contradictions and cynicism that drive so many narco-related policy decisions on both sides of the border.
Here's her take on the recent teen massacre in Ciudad Juarez.
Where does this leave us? What should we read about Mexico's drug war, and how? I like Gancho, for starters, when Corcoran posts on narco stuff. You can also check out other Mexico-related links on the right, some in Spanish.
For now, however, these are questions that I'm going to have to table on Intersections, as I'm no longer a free agent. I'll be starting a new job soon, back in the media machine.* Details later.